Friday, August 1, 2008

Has the "Sport of Kings" become the "Business of Klingons?”

I grew up in the ‘50s overexposed to television on Saturday mornings long before I ever bet on a horse on a Saturday afternoon. So whenever I want to poke fun at something, I drag out old cartoon or sci-fi characters to fit the situation.

When I did get started, there was no Sunday racing in New York in the course of a nine-month season. There were only two-horse exotic wagers, and every bettor had the same opportunity to come out ahead if he could pick a reasonable percentage of winners with positive performance records. Reward was directly proportional to risk.

Racing was then a gambling/entertainment business based on a sport, with a monopoly on legal gambling outside Las Vegas. Every player, however, still had a sporting chance. There have always been a minority of winning players that are simply smarter, bolder, better-informed, and more skillful than their competition, but back then, many casual bettors like myself were able to keep their bankrolls intact from the middle of March through the beginning of December.

Today’s higher takeouts have lowered payoffs, and even though opportunities for greater financial reward have evolved through multiple horse exotic wagers, success with these more complicated types of bets generally requires one to risk more than the average casual player's comfort level allows. Some days when a Trifecta or a Pick Four eludes me, I wish I could return to those days of yesteryear with a hearty hi-yo Vigors, away.

In the popular future-based TV series called "Star Trek," space-travelling earthlings encountered an unrelenting warrior race called Klingons who developed a technology known as cloaking that made their space ships invisible. Ever since I was a kid racing has behaved like Klingons; cloaking themselves from viewing on television and now making themselves virtually invisible to on-line bettors. Even when racing can actually get somebody interested enough to bet on-line, there's a good chance he won't be able to bet all tracks he wants from a single ADW account, or be able to view a given race live.

What is also invisible to some who bet for entertainment today is the competitive edge enjoyed by the highest volume bettors who -- win or lose -- get back from between one and twelve cents on every dollar they wager. Rebating this 1% of bettors who generate at least 10% of the total amount wagered is frequently characterized as simply "good business practice" on the part of tracks, ADWs, horse owner groups, and these bettors of at least $1 million per year known as “whales.”

In my opinion the most insidious aspect of the game is the high takeouts imposed on all players. Giving only very preferred players a slightly lower takeout while the rest of the players struggle seems far less than ideal to me. Small players can become big players, if given the push that rebates provide. The practice of rebating cannot continue to be restricted to high-volume bettors. An extension of this situation occurs when tracks and whales join forces to keep Pick Six winnings out of the hands of the small players by maintaining a $2 minimum for each combination. Racing should be a big tent with alternatives for all players; not unrelentingly stacked against the little guy.

Some HANA members are now questioning whether lower direct takeout for all is actually attainable and, even if rebates are made available to smaller players by all ADWs, whether they will match those to whales. HANA’s existing priorities were predicated on the idea that racing's popularity and share of the North American gambling dollar would increase by enabling more people to fully participate on a level playing field.

HANA wants and needs feedback to be sure that our unified voice mirrors our membership. Let us know what YOU think.

This opinion was submitted by a California member of HANA.


Anonymous said...

I disagree about the Pick 6 minimum comments. I do not think it would be a positive for them to be reduced.

Having one bet that is extremely difficult (AND potentially very expensive) with potentially life changing payoffs is not a bad thing at all. This statement:

"Racing should be a big tent with alternatives for all players"

Should be the thought behind supporting it, as-is. It is the most difficult and the most expensive bet, with the biggest payoffs. It's not for everyone. You've got show betting on favorites at one end of the spectrum, and Pick 6's way at the other. That is the type of selection that supplies a big tent, with alternatives for all players. Carryovers are the life blood of Pick 6 wagering.

-- RB

Anonymous said...

There are several ways to reconcile our points of view.

When the Exacta minimum in CA was still $5, an exception was made for at least 3-horse boxes at $2 per combination, e.g., 6 combinations for $12. Similarly, P6 tickets with at least 2 horses per race might be considered at $.50 per combination, e.g., 64 combinations for $32. Unless one’s handicapping is superb, that shouldn’t prevent many carryovers.

Actually the positive aspects of the P6 could be preserved and still give the small bettor an occasional opportunity to play competitively. The $2 minimum would remain in effect on carryover days and weekdays, but just as NYRA has a lower P6 takeout on non-carryover days in order to prime the pump, why not have a lower minimum on non-carry-over weekend/holiday days, and perhaps an even lower one when the P6 sequence includes multiple stakes races? How often do such sequences generate carryovers anyway?

This would let the casual players participate on days they’re most likely to without eliminating opportunities for whales and fortune-seekers. This approach would also build an interest and a desire to play for larger minimums.

Fortunately, those who lowered the minimum for Superfectas did not find logic like the following of yours compelling: ”It's not for everyone. You've got show betting on favorites at one end of the spectrum, and Pick 6's way at the other. That is the type of selection that supplies a big tent, with alternatives for all players.”

Wasn’t there a dime super recently that paid over $60 thousand?

Anonymous said...

Having lower minimums on non-carryover days is the surest way to ensure that there are never (or much more rarely) any carryovers, I think that is pretty obvious.

There are many players for whom the dime supers have caused a loss of interest, as the chances of sweeping a pool have gone down. So what is fortunate for one person is fortunate for another.

Rather than focusing on issues that set one group of horseplayers interests against another, I think HANA should focus on issues that effect all horseplayers. Hopefully the tent here at HANA, just like the wagering options at the track, is big enough to include something for everyone.

Deriding rebates for large players serves no purpose other than to be divisive. Eliminating rebates altogether, which is one possible response of the industry to that argument, does not improve the overall lot of horseplayers in any meaningful way.

Recognizing rebates as a de facto takeout reduction, and therefore a positive, and working towards their expansion to more players, on the other hand, is a positive step that everyone can support. Working towards open ADW's, a positive. Working towards more and better information about the entrants, a positive. Working for better drug laws and oversight, a positive. Working for better tax laws, a positive.

There are many positive things we can work together for, that help everyone. One group of horseplayers is not the enemy of achieving these things for the other. There is no need for class warfare arguments, they do not serve a useful purpose. As a entity that hopes to attract all horseplayers, regardless of handle, the focus should be on commonality, not differences. Minimum wager size is a preference and a difference from horseplayer to horseplayer.

Having one wager like the Pick 6 is hardly hampering the sport. It is one of the few "headline makers" outside of the industry. I don't see why HANA would want to make changing it any prominent part of their platform. The tax consequences as a result of hitting it, yes. The wager itself, no. It is extremely popular, as is.

-- Raleigh

Anonymous said...

To characterize legitimate analysis of racing’s problems as “class warfare” is counterproductive. HANA’s battle is with the status quo. The game is broken. Every aspect of racing needs to be examined to find potential changes and enhancements that might rekindle interest in the game. No one has said that those who receive rebates are doing anything wrong by accepting them; and decrying the practice of limiting them to a tiny minority is not declaring that minority to be the enemy.

The P6 is indeed a “headline maker” outside the industry. Everyone is aware of the wager, but relatively few play it as competitively as they would like to. Many either ignore it or only dabble in it; not by choice, but out of necessity. It seems to me that getting more people involved in playing the P6 with enthusiasm would increase participation in all pools and grow handle.

Implementing a lower minimum only twice a week -- and then only if there isn’t a carryover -- is not an unreasonable strategy to experiment with. Neither is trying to find out whether $1 or $.50 or $.25 is the optimal pool enhancer or a carryover inhibitor. It is not obvious that lowering the minimum would, by itself, stifle carryovers. Field size and competitiveness as well as hidden form are also significant factors

There is, or at least was, a contest being held on the horse racing forum that involves playing the P6 starting with an imaginary bankroll of $10 thousand. Last time I participated, only a handful of other contestants posted their imaginary tickets also. Whether that was due to lack of imaginary bankroll or other reasons I don’t know, but real money that might have gone into the pools didn’t; and it wasn’t due to a lack of interest.

Those interested enough in the game to read this blog, and offer their own opinions in response to those of others, are generally a passionate lot. This sometimes leads to rhetoric that discredits opposing views by distorting them. Such deception may be unintentional, but it distracts us from moving forward.

Anonymous said...

I think we have more than enough on our agenda, clearly delineated by the mission statement, to keep us busy.

Maybe once we accomplish a few of the mutually agreed upon objectives, we can revisit this debate about what the Pick 6 minimum bet should be, on what day of the week. Until that time, it does nothing but:

"distract us from moving forward."